A Travellerspoint blog

One more stop before heading home...

During our last morning in Monterosso we decided to follow another one of Stefano's recommendations, this time for breakfast. We had cappuccino and tried some of the restaurant's cake. I know what you're thinking, “Cake for breakfast?” But you just can't pass up a local's recommendation, not to mention Stefano had informed us that this was “Breakfast Cake.” We quickly found out that this is not a direct translation when we were met with blank stares and confusion. After asking for “Breakfast Cake” several more times, we eventually just pointed to a couple slices that looked tasty. We ate quickly, chatted with some American's we had met on the train the day before and headed down to the beach to say goodbye one more time. We were sad to leave our new friend, but we're hoping to see Stefano in December after his race (we promised him a lounge chair on the Sacramento River for a discounted rate) or when we return for work next summer.

The train to Milan took about three hours, and about an hour after we arrived we found ourselves in our last Italian room. Being that this was our final night, Heidi and I decided that we needed to go big! However, “going big” as a backpacker is not a very impressive sight. Even less so when you're in Milan, arguably the fashion capital of the world. I pulled out a wrinkled black dress (the same one that was a staple for my time on the beach in Ecuador), flip flops and a bit of jewelery. We had barely made it down the stairs of our hotel before we realized that this wasn't really going to cut it in Milan. Maybe it was just us, but we felt as if everyone was paying attention to the stark contrast between ourselves and the fashion conscious residents of Milan.

Our first stop for the night was a local happy hour, just outside our room. While the cocktails were exorbitantly priced, it came with a buffet of salmon, pizza, fruit and more, not to mention excellent people watching. Next, we took the metro to check out the Duomo before heading for the Brera area. Before we were able to make it there, we found a little pub that was overflowing with men in suits. We decided to get a beer, and before long we met a man named Steven Smith. Steven is an American born lawyer who has lived in Italy for the past six years. We first started chatting as he used us as an example when trying to teach one of the bartenders English. Heidi and I sat and chatted with him for quite a while as he urged us not to settle down in the states, bought us beer and flattered us with compliments. By the time we left the bar, it was close to eleven, and Steven showed us the way (riding his vespa very slowly, which was quite entertaining) to the cute restaurants that line the main street of the Brera district. We picked one and split the risotto and gnocchi (both were amazing).

We were told that there was another district nearby with fun bars, so we wandered a little further, finally ending up in a plaza with over a hundred Italians standing around outside several bars drinking and mingling. That's when it became increasingly clear to Heidi and I that the people of Milan are not only fashionable, they are also ridiculously good looking. We couldn't help but stare and even take some pictures. Eventually, the owner of the bar we were sitting outside of asked us to join him and some of his friends. We're pretty sure this guy (and his friends, for that matter) were not nearly as cool as they thought they were and we only stayed a couple minutes before deciding to call it a night.

Although we may not have been prepared for a night out (even a Wednesday!) in Milan, we definitely picked up on some new trends that we're going to be bringing back home. You can expect to hear us saying, “That's so in right now! I saw it all over Milan” for just about everything from lime green pants to glitter shoes. I mean, we saw it in a fashion capital like Milan, so it must be in!

(Names in this particular post may or may not have been changed for the harmlessly self-involved.)

Posted by AnzelcL 16:56 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Monterosso once more!

sunny 85 °F

On our first night (back) in Monterosso, Heidi and I decided to do a Cute and Happenin' repeat. When we arrived for dinner at Cute, the woman who sat us did a bit of a double take before saying, “Same table!” She was right, Heidi and Stephanie were seated at the exact same table as last time. The restaurant didn't disappoint this time either. Heidi and I decided to split pesto gnocchi and that night's special, white fish. Both were delicious, and we washed them down with a bit of house white wine.

After dinner we decided to head to Happenin' (better known now as Fast Bar). When we arrived at a near empty Fast Bar, we were greeted by no other than Stupid Cupid (SC). Since SC had little else to do, he sat with us and chatted for a while. When he couldn't produce cards for us to finish our game of Loser Face, he even taught us how to play 21 (better known to those from Redwood City as MexiCali). It then became increasingly clear that Heidi is an honest person (or she didn't quite understand the rules of the game), as she refused to lie even when her roll was lower the previous one. After getting to know SC a little better, we decided he wasn't quite so bad after all. And speaking of not so bad after all, Heidi and I also ran into Sacramento. He and his friend joined us for a while for drinks before we heading out for the night and his sense of humor really won us over. Not to mention, he took it really well when I told him, “You've made the blog, you're about to be famous! And, I'm sorry in advance...” Sacramento was quite excited about this and even began planning how he would deal with his upcoming notoriety. He said he pictured himself featured in US Weekly with a caption that reads: “Stars, they're just like us: After the beach Sacramento heads to Fast Bar!” And it didn't stop there, before long our friend Stefano had showed up as well, and we chatted with him until it was time for the evening to come to an end.

Yesterday we devoted ourselves to the beach, and because of this I have very little to write about it. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about spending my time in Italy laying on the beach and swimming in the sea. But I'm pretty sure that you would too if you saw just how beautiful the Italian beach is, just how amazing this Italian sun feels and just how gorgeous these Italian lifeguards really are.

While Heidi had an authentic Italian dinner with Stefano, I had my first solo night in Italy. I wandered the streets of the old and new towns looking for excitement and, finding very little, finally settled on two scoops of gelato and an early night.

We decided that today we would finally manage to hike to the two towns we hadn't made it to on our first adventure in Cinque Terre. We took the train to Corniglia and then set off by foot to Manarola. A short while before we arrived we found stairs leading down to where rocks meet the water. Though the hike wasn't that strenuous, the 382 stairs we had mistakenly taken were, and we were more than ready to jump in and cool off. That is, until we realized that the rocks were covered by moss, muscles and sea urchins. Heidi still managed to jump right in. I got in the water eventually, after carefully inspecting just which rocks were the least covered with underwater life forms. We sat on the rocks to dry off for a bit, hanging out with Mario (the seagull) and Pedro (the crab who came all the way from Ecuador to say “Hola”). We continued our hike, which quickly turned into a walk, until we arrived in Riomaggiore. There, we snacked on gelato before jumping on a train back to Monterosso.
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We spent a couple more hours on the beach, chatting with the likes of Stefano and Mario. At one point, Stefano even brought us mini drinks in shot glasses. Cosmo for me, mojito for Hides; the same two drinks we had ordered from him the first day we met him. And after a little convincing, Stefano even said that I could come back and work there next summer as long as I learned Italian. I was pretty excited until he told me there were several other people interested and that I would need to send a resume. I'm not really sure that any of my experience really qualifies me for the position... When it was time to get out of the sun (mostly because I am getting so dark that I may be difficult to recognize), we followed Stefano's recommendation and headed to a local wine bar that he promised had great bruschetta. We ended up getting a sample of bruschetta, trying everything from sardines to olive pate. It was amazing, maybe with the exception of the lard (yes, lard!)....
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And now I find myself sitting in a square surrounded by locals and tourists alike, snacking on bruschetta, drinking wine and watching the world cup (with a little bit of blogging, of course).

Traveling continues to give me the kind of perspective on myself and my life that I just can't seem to get when I am at home. As this trip comes to an end, many of our nights are consumed with brainstorming ways that I can continue to have these adventures (Heidi's pretty much figured it out for herself with summers off). I keep thinking that I will suddenly feel fulfilled, that I will have seen enough of the world and I can pick one place to plant some roots without the constant desire to see more. I wish someone had told me a couple years ago there's no such thing as a traveling therapist... Anyone have any suggestions?

Posted by AnzelcL 16:52 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Como and more

sunny

Lake Como is so amazingly beautiful.

When we first arrived, we were a little confused about where exactly our hostel was. We found a misleading sign which said our hostel was 50 meters away. 200 meters later, we popped into a nearby bar to ask for directions. Luckily for us, it turns out we had already found the place! Our cute little room, just above the bar and restaurant below, is about five minutes away from the water and seemed like the perfect place to lay our heads for a couple nights.
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After dropping our bags, we wandered down to the water where we were able to window shop, watch the local fishermen and eventually grab some dinner. We ended up making it an early night and watched a movie (well, at least the first part) before falling asleep.

The next morning we woke up ready to explore the lake. After speaking with a very helpful woman at the information center, we felt as if we knew the area like the back of our hands. In fact, we're considering our futures as tour guides to Lake Como. Anyone interested?

Our first adventure of the day was a boat ride to Bellagio. We arrived at Bellagio in the early afternoon and explored the steep and winding streets that lead through shop after shop. We stopped for a bit for lunch inside a cute little restaurant, with servers full of jokes (not surprising at this point). Heidi and I both had ham, cheese and lettuce wraps grilled in flat bread – we both agree, delicious! We hopped back on a boat to Varenna and started to feel a little sleepy. We figured that we needed to get out and do something active or we were headed to laying around and doing nothing all day long.
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We used the information that the tourist center had given us earlier and headed up the mountain to the medieval city and castle above Varenna. The hike was quite steep, but beautiful, and even more so when we topped it off with popsicles. While up there, Heidi and I wondered just how long we would have to wait before someone would come find us. We figured we could live on popsicles and hide in the growth around the castle at least until we missed our plane. Don't worry mom, we decided to come down...
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On our way back to our hostel after the hike we stopped by a store and bought bread, cheese and wine. We sat in the room for a while, sharing with each other our short and long term goals (really, I'm not joking) and then went downstairs and played cards while drinking our wine. I taught Heidi a card game that Eric and I had learned in Ecuador. Although it has an alias, the more appropriate name is “Loser Face.” Heidi picked up on the game quickly (except for those sevens) and by the time we made it to dinner we were tied, though I'm hoping to show her who's boss (And we all know, I'M THE BOSS) next time we play.
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This morning we woke up early to hike around the hills of Lake Como a little more. We headed back up the castle and then walked to the next town. We ended up splitting up for a little while, Heidi hiking further and me enjoying the views of the city and the mountain. As I waited for Heidi to return, several people approached me and started talking to me in Italian. Heidi and I have decided this is because the tanner I get, the more I look like a local. This might be, but I am sure they realize the truth once I return their questions with blank stares and “I don't speak Italian” sometimes in Spanish and sometimes in English.
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After our hike, it was time to leave stunning Lake Como. Since we had several days left, and only question marks in our itinerary, Heidi and I decided to head back to Monterosso for more hiking, more time on the beach and, of course, more Fast Bar. On our way, we missed one train, caught two and met a family in the meantime. Leslie, Shane and Conner were a blended American family vacationing in Italy. Leslie and Shane were adorable, interesting to talk to and seemed very much in love. Conner, Shane's 16 year old son gave me some great pointers on how to improve my blog, from branding to advertisement. Good looking out, Conner! The train ride became even more interesting when our car (and only our car) filled with smoke. It must not have been anything major, because after a few panicky looks we started up and again and the smoke finally cleared out. We arrived in Monterosso in the evening and checked into our little apartment on Via Roma. Yes, that's right – Apartment! Really, it's more like a tiny studio but it still manages to squeeze in two beds, a bathroom and even a kitchen. Not to mention that when I hesitated at 70 euro a night we were quickly offered 50. Far and away, the best part of our Italian apartment is the proximity to Fast Bar; you can literally throw a rock from our front door to theirs. I wasn't sure we wanted to take the apartment (we had previously had a bad experience with a drunk, apartment wielding woman with a dog) so in a moment of panic I said my name was Stephanie. What?! I'm not sure what happened, but I do know this was a total Alicia moment. We're crossing our fingers that one passport will be enough to check into the room and for the rest of our time here Heidi is required to call me Steph.

Posted by AnzelcL 16:30 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Venice to Verona; Verona to Veranna

sunny 80 °F

Heidi and I decided to spend one more day in Venice after Alicia departed us. I especially wanted to make sure to soak in all the beauty Venice has to offer. We started the day off by wandering through the fish and fruit markets, stopping to get breakfast (fresh fruit, not fresh fish) and a granita (popular frozen drink in Venice, coffee flavored for us). Before long, we continued on to the same restaurant on the Grand Canal that we had finished our night at the evening before. Instead of wine, we had sparkling water and cappuccino while we wrote (journal for Heidi, blog for me) about the amazing experiences we were having. After a while, they kicked us out of our table, apparently looking for people who were willing to spend more money than us. We continued on, roaming through the streets and over the canals until we found another restaurant where we could sit in the sun and relax. Although it wasn't located on the Grand Canal, it may have been even more charming. Situated in a small plaza next to a canal was the perfect opportunity to people watch as the locals breezed by on foot and by boat.
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During our time in Venice, we had seen many people sipping on bright orange and red colored drinks. There was one plaza in particular where we saw these drinks, as well as young Italians and tourists who were gathering in groups to chat, drink and watch the world cup. We asked a woman nearby what exactly we were going to be getting ourselves into, and she told us this drink was called a Spritz (made up of wine, alcohol and club soda). Heidi and I ordered one of each, which turned out to be a big mistake! We enjoyed long, slow sips of the orange version and barely managed to choke down the red version. Certainly not a drink we would recommend. Next we headed back to the shop we had bought our wine in yesterday and asked Dario for another recommendation. He insisted we try a new red, which we ended up buying for the staggering price of 1.50 euros a bottle. Not a bad deal for local wine right out of the barrel. We took our wine, along with the thick crust pizza we couldn't pass up, to a nearby plaza where we sat on the steps and watched the city pass by in front of us. After a while, we heard jazz coming through the streets and followed the sound until we came to another plaza with a live band. We sat and enjoyed the music for quite a while before deciding it was time to get some more food. Heidi and I had been wanting to try the calamari, so we found a local bar that served it. We filled up on the calamari, hesitating only for a moment when we realized that there was a sardine or two mixed in. Our last stop for the night was some amazing Chinese food right outside our hostel. You can only have so much bread and pasta before you need a little break!
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We packed our day full today. We started in Venice, did a day trip in Verona and then headed to Lake Como for the night. Catching a train to Verona this morning was quite the challenge. We had checked times the day before, but when we arrived at the station we were told there was a strike and that not all the trains were running. When we were finally able to use the self-service ticketing machines, there was a malfunction that said there were no seats available. When we asked one of the station employees, he said to buy tickets on the train. When we asked the conductor, he said we needed to by tickets in the station... I thought, “Can we get everyone together for a little meeting? There seems to be some confusion.” Eventually, we were informed that the strike was more of a possibility than a guarantee, and after waiting in line for quite a while, we purchased tickets for a later train that we were told may or may not show up. Luckily, our train did show up and we were off to Verona.

Verona, the city made famous by Romeo and Juliet, is a cute place that we explored very little of. In our few hours there, we took a bus to the city center and wandered the streets, took pictures of the local arena (the red-headed stepchild to the Colosseum) and stumbled upon Juliet's fake house. Yes, that's right. There is a house, museum and even tomb for this fictional character. The most interesting part of Juliet's house, which we spent all of two minutes outside of, was the walls lined with love notes written by people all over the world. We even added one of our own...
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We finished our time in Verona with the most amazing meal at Osteria al Duca (good work, Rick). I had bacon wrapped mozzarella, followed by meatballs and pasta, while Heidi enjoyed sauteed vegetables and pasta with tomato sauce, eggplant, cheese and basil. The meal also included water, wine and espresso. Definitely worth the twelve euro it cost us!

After lunch we hopped on a train and now we are headed for Lake Como. We will be staying in Verenna, one of the many small towns that line the lake. Varenna is home to only 800 people, but I expect that the many tourists liven it up a little. It doesn't really matter; Heidi and I are excited about enjoying the lake, hiking and the relaxation that comes with the small town feel.

Posted by AnzelcL 09:42 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hello Venice, Goodbye Alicia

sunny

The last two days have been more relaxing than eventful. On our last day in Montersoso we woke up early, bumped into Ivano, said goodbye to the lifeguards and headed to the train station. Unfortunately, the automated ticket machine broke when we were next in line and the ticket window ran out of paper after we were half way through. We missed our train, but were able to hop on another one just a few minutes later. We tried to catch up on sleep until we arrived in Pisa and almost didn't make our connections because we were so knocked out. We did eventually find our way to Venice by early afternoon.

Venice is somewhere I have always wanted to go. Even before I wanted to travel, I wanted to experience Venice. The city has not disappointed me at all. Many people have told me that they think Venice is overrated – that the water is dirty, murky and smelly. Instead, I think the city is enchanting. You can walk several blocks (probably in circles because the labyrinth of streets can be a bit confusing) and then wander right the a dead end where the water meets the sidewalk. Doors open to water and gondolas are a way of life.
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Last night we bought grapes and a bottle of prosecco (after tasting several varieties of local wines) before jumping on a Gondola. Our gondolier was a man named Mario, but he preferred to be called Casanova the Second II; all the other gondoliers told us he was trouble and I believe it. Earlier in the day we had asked a local where we should eat dinner and he had given us directions to a local restaurant. The twenty minute walk took us about an hour as we got lost, asked for directions, walked in circles and got lost a little more. When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of charm this local restaurant offered. We told Mario, the owner, that Dario had sent us and received VIP treatment. This means were weren't allowed to order what we want (“The lasagne is the best!”), we were given free desert and wine, and we were forced to take several pictures with Mario. I think Mario was particularly fond of me because he wouldn't stop rubbing my shoulders. The feeling wasn't reciprocated, and we managed to sneak out while he was in the kitchen.
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Last night was our final night with Alicia, so we did everything we could to make sure we enjoyed it as much as possible. We had a final glass of wine sitting in a plaza on the Grand Canal and reminisced on Italy, Spain and the way our friendship have changed and grown over the past five years. Heidi and I were so sad to see her go this morning, but we're looking forward to upcoming camping trips, races and eventually Thailand (with E Herl, or course!).

Posted by AnzelcL 11:26 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Hiking and more in Cinque Terre

sunny 85 °F

Most of our day yesterday was consumed with hiking. In Cinque Terre, you can purchase a pass which allows you to hike between five seaside towns. We started with breakfast in the morning (cappuccinos and tomato, mozzarella and focaccia sandwiches) and then headed off along the trail. The hike itself was indescribably beautiful. Not only were we surrounded by the sea and an outstanding city scape, but we also trekked through vineyards, and lemon and olive trees. As the afternoon progressed, the heat brought out the smell of thyme, basil and lavender that was growing nearby. We even sampled some of the olives, although the were far from ripe (read: smaller than a pea). As we got further along in the hike, we climbed up and down the hills, across waterfalls and stone bridges and passed houses built right into the side of the mountain. I had some questions, so I put Alicia in charge of the history and she told me a nice little story about how the trail originated. I'm sure she had no idea what she was talking about, but she was pretty convincing all the same.
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We arrived at the first town, Vernazza, about an hour and a half into the hike. Almost as soon as we arrived we met a group of four Canadian guys who were spending a month together in Europe. We ended up having lunch with them from a local pizzeria and then heading down to the water. It didn't take long to realize that these Lebanese Canadians were a fun group of guys. Alicia and I laid on the rocks and chatted with Billy and Pedro (or was is Sandro?) while Heidi took a dip in the water with Kahlil. After sponging for quite a while, we decided to move on the next portion of the hike and after much debating and a few “Seize the Day” speeches from Kahlil, the guys decided to as well. Although we were initially going to go together, we split up when we got stuck in a very long line for a very dirty bathroom. About another hour and a half later we arrived in another beautiful town, Corniglia, which sits high above the sea. We quickly found a small restaurant with outdoor seating shaded by the branches of grape vines. While there, we enjoyed a delicious cheese plate, paired with fig spread and honey with a big bottle of sparkling water; the perfect way to end our hike. Before we jumped on the train we sampled some more of the local gelato and briefly joined in a local soccer game.
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We decided to end the night with dinner on the water. While our food was relatively unremarkable, the view was beautiful. As soon as we finished, the guys we had met earlier strolled in to finish their evening with tea. We ended up joining them, having tea and interesting conversation. We found the guys to be charming and entertaining; before we knew it we had somehow ended up playing ice breakers (stopping just short of truth or dare). Heidi and I decided to swing by Fast Bar with them for a beer before heading to bed, while Alicia made it an early night. We sat and chatted with the guys some more and they told us a little bit more about themselves, including just how great they really are. Maybe a little arrogant, but fun all the same. And not too hard on the eyes, either...

Today has arguably been the best day yet. We slept in and then headed down to the beach where we rented lounge chairs and did just about nothing. After a couple hours we headed to the bar, where we were greeted by a pair of adorable guys who told the woman taking our order that we should stay in the bar area inside of going back to the beach. This way we could be served by a couple handsome Italian men... Heidi and I were more than a little intriguing. We did end up taking our drinks back to the beach, but not before Heidi was sprayed by Mario with tonic water. A little bit later, while Heidi and I were taking a dip in the water, Mario came over and chatted with us. It turns out Mario is actually named Stefano and is planning a trip to Sacramento to run a marathon in December. Stefano was quick to mention that there have been four women from California who have married Italian men and moved to Cinque Terre. Alicia, Heidi and I now have hope to be the fifth, sixth and seventh Californians. We chatted with him for a while, before I invited them to dinner with us that evening. Stefano thought this was a great idea, but that we should get dinner to go and eat it on the beach instead. We made plans to meet at nine, and finished our day on the beach with kayaking around the sea.
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Before dinner we went to get a little snack at a local pizzeria and that's when we met Ivano. Ivano is quite possibly the most beautiful man living in Italy. During the off season, when he's not playing professional soccer, he works in a restaurant in Cinque Terre charming the tourists. When the restaurant slowed down a little he joined us at our table and before long we had plans to meet him later in the evening as well.
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We arrived a little late for dinner with the local bartenders and lifeguards, but still early enough to help them set the table (something we're getting quite used to). We were a little surprised that we were setting the table for twelve, until we realized that we weren't the only girls who had been invited to this romantic dinner. And I thought this was my idea?! The girls started arriving in groups, and quite quickly we felt as if we were participating in the filming of a Bachelor episode. Though the ratio wasn't in our favor, we definitely captivated the interest of the two cutest Italian men there, Stefano and Mario. We eat, drank and chatted until it was time to clean up and head to Fast Bar (where else?). The usuals were already there when we arrived and we turned a quick shoulder to Sacramento and Stupid Cupid. Instead we chatted with the locals until Ivano finally arrived and Alicia and I stared at him dreamily until it was time for the bar to close. Stefano and Heidi spoke enthusiastically about running, and he even joked about coming by 47th street after his marathon.
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Posted by AnzelcL 11:19 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rain, backpacks and limoncello

Yesterday was a very early morning, except for Alicia who had a very late night. Alicia, who has been having trouble sleeping, took to roaming the halls of the converted convent that we were staying in instead. Hopefully she didn't disturb the priest living there too much. At five thirty, Alicia gave up on trying to sleep and we packed our bags and headed from bus, to bus, to bus before finally arriving in San Gimignano. We had decided to do San Gimignano as a day trip in order to maximize Alicia's time in Italy, so we carried our backpacks down the narrow cobblestone streets, popping in and out of hotels hoping to find a safe place to drop them. We never found a place, but that didn't stop us from exploring the city. From the outstanding 360 degree views of Tuscany to the locals with their horse who we stumbled upon when trying to find shelter from the rain, the whole city took our breath away. We were lucky to get into the town before the all the tourists streamed in and we spent a couple minutes watched the local medieval festival before catching the train to Florence.
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The train to Florence was particularly eventful because of our new friend Juan. Juan is a very handsome Peruvian man who is studying economics in Florence. This was the perfect opportunity to practice our Spanish, and in doing so we learned all about his family, his travels and the exciting night he was just then getting home from. By the time we arrived in Empoli (a city just outside of Florence) Juan had given us his facebook, his e-mail and an invitation to spend the night. We regretfully declined and went on are way to Cinque Terre.

We took several more trains before finally arriving in beautiful Monterosso in the early evening and checked in to our fancy one star hotel (which is a major upgrade, by the way). Our room was cute and clean, with a window that looked out over Via Roma (the main street). The bathroom left more then a little to be desired, and reminded us quite a bit of a mobile home bathroom – we pretty much were showering over the toilet.
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We headed out for dinner shortly after we arrived, and tried to decide where we wanted to eat – Cute or Happenin'. Cute meant one of tens of little Italian restaurants tucked into the small, winding streets and Happenin' meant Fast Bar. Fast Bar may very well be the only bar in Monterosso and its certainly the only place you can hang out or get a drink after midnight. We decided to do Cute for dinner and Happenin' for after. Dinner was a delicious mix of comfort food (french fries) and local cuisine (swordfish).

After dinner it was time for Happenin'! We walked into Fast Bar, bought some beers and found a crowded table in the middle of the room. Though this bar is run and frequented by locals, it still felt very touristy – even more so after we saw the American dollar bills that lined the walls. We were only sitting for a minute before three shots of limoncello showed up. According the the bartender, they were from the guy with the mohawk sitting at the bar. To be polite, we waved him over and asked him if he wanted to join us. It turns out he is from Sacramento, proof of just how small the world is. He was mildly interesting to talk to, but became less so when he repeatedly forgot the answers to all the questions he asked. After a while, Alicia and Heidi had disengaged themselves from the conversation while I sat chatting with Sacramento when two more limoncello shots showed up. Heidi and Alicia tried to wave over the two guys who had bought them, but were met with confused stares instead. It only took a couple minutes to realize that no one had actually bought us shots and that this was the bartenders ploy to keep us there. According to him, his name is Stupid Cupid and “When pretty girls come into the bar, you have to find some way to make them stay.” Sacramento showed no shame for playing along with Stupid Cupid and we decided to head out after enough matching making from a not so cute cherub.

Posted by AnzelcL 01:31 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Rome to Florence

sunny 70 °F

We woke up early this morning – but not quite early enough. Possibly because of our fun last night, we slept in past our alarm and barely made it to our train this morning. Heidi and Alicia finished packing, I checked out and we jumped on the metro before dashing through the metro station to the train station. We made it to our awaiting train with plenty of time to spare – two minutes! A four hour train ride later we arrived in Florence. We found our way to some lunch, our hostel and finally another siesta. After that, we strolled a few miles into the town center, stopping to admire the beautiful views, whether it be the river or the local pastry shop. We headed to Michelangelo's Square where we could see below us beautiful Florence while enjoying good conversation and salty popcorn.

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Both Rick (Steves, of course) and Heidi's friend had suggested we try out a restaurant on the river in Florence called Golden View Open Bar (a very traditional Italian name). This has been our finest dining experience, the room was decorated mostly in white and sprinkled with bright and elegant artwork. Even though we were told we had to have reservations, we were able to get a table anyway and sample Chianti (the local wine), enjoy the river below and the cute boys named Mario all around us. One took particular interest in Heidi and offered us free lemoncello in the lounge after we finished our meal. When we left, Mario suggested we head to a local hot stop. I think he's probably still there waiting too see if Heidi shows up....
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Instead of going out on the town, we stopped at Grom. According to our taxi driver, Mario, Grom is the best gelato in Florence, and according to Rick, Florence has the best gelato in the world. We really couldn't have passed that up, right? Although it was amazing, I'm not convinced its the best. I plan to spend the rest of the trip trying to eat as much gelato as much as possible in order to ensure an accurate review.

Today we slept in for quite a while; I think we're all still adjusting to our jet lag a little bit. We decided today would be a great day to check out some of the local shopping, some of the local Belgium waffles with chocolate (who knew?) and some of the local jewelry. We braved the rain and thunder, bought purses and scarfs and tucked into a local pizzeria for dinner when it was time.
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Florence is smaller than Rome, but still has the feel of a big and busy city. The streets are small, but the charm is big. A good part of our time in Florence has been practicing being Italian – from what we hear this means eating, drinking, people watching and not much else. We're getting pretty good at this, if I do say so myself. This trip has such a special feel to it. I am so lucky to have the amazing women in my life that I do, not to mention being able to experience such amazing parts of the world. It doesn't happen very often that you can see someone every couple years and pick up right where you left off. It's even better when you're picking up in Italy...

Posted by AnzelcL 16:25 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Roman sights, Roman food and Roman Egyptians

sunny 77 °F

The last two days have been a world wind of sightseeing, Italian food and catching up. Alicia arrived safety in the morning on Wednesday and we set out to see the Colosseum, Palestine Hill and the Roman Forum. Alicia made friends with a gladiator and we set off for our two part tour. We made it through the first part with no hitches and then headed off to lunch. We talked and ate before talking and eating some more. So much in fact, that we didn't make it to the second part of our tour. Instead, Heidi (our great information seeker) was able to work our way into a different tour (way to go, Hides) and we set of to explore the Roman Forum and Palentine Hill with Jana. Jana was an amazing tour guide and she even gave us great advice for the rest of the time in Rome. She insisted that we didn't eat in the city center (“Not even for a joke!”) and gave us some good ideas about where we should go instead.
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After the tour and a brief siesta in our hostel, we promptly disregarded everything Jana had told us and headed directly to the city center. We walked around for quite a while before finally settling on a charming little restaurant that left more than a little to be desired. Heidi tried to order pesto spaghetti, but the little Italian woman who was serving us quickly shot that down, and insisted she have the gnocchi, just like me. Alicia really splurged with a fancy plate of spinach, but was quickly reprimanded by Flora for putting parmesan cheese on it. We washed it all down with house wine, jumped on the metro and returned to our hostel for a relatively early night.

Our plan for yesterday was to wake up for an early trip to the Vatican. I was particularly excited about seeing the Sistine Chapel and country number 19 (although, I'm still not really sure it counts). We had purchased tickets and reservations online so we wouldn't have to wait in line, and we were able to keep them even after we showed up an hour late (the Vatican wall being a little difficult to follow). The Vatican Museum, especially the Sistine Chapel was absolutely amazing and beautiful. We even enjoyed the inside of the snack shop when our feet were too sore to walk any further.
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After the Vatican we stopped at a cute little Italian restaurant and shared a couple pizzas and wine before learning that you can drink beer on the local buses (just expect a couple sideways looks). Heidi and I acted as tour guides for Alicia as she experienced the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. Then we made a quick stop at the Spanish steps before heading back to our room.

Our initial idea for last night was a nice dinner out in the wine district that Heidi and I had explored on our first night. After just a few minutes in our room, we realized just how tired we were and just how lofty an idea this seemed. Instead, we headed out our hostel in hopes of finding the closest restaurant possible. That's when we found Tre Arche and we were greeted by an excited little Egyptian man offering us free champagne AND a discount – hard to pass up! It turns out that's not all you get when you go to Tre Arche.... You also get seemingly endless glasses of wine, free appetizers from other guests, an apron and high expectations from the boss. Before we knew it, Heidi was drying dishes, I was serving tables and Alicia was taking pictures. Quite the unexpected experience. The guys working the restaurant were all Egyptian and seemed quite pleased to have met us. They even asked us to stay around until the restaurant closed so we could go out with them after. We did wait around for a while, and they took us to a local park (read: little dirt area next to a street) where Heidi talked to their family, and Alicia continued to take pictures. Needless to say, we certainly had an unique and unforgettable experience with our Egyptian Romans.
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Posted by AnzelcL 10:32 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Finally in Italy

all seasons in one day 84 °F

Heidi and I have finally arrived in Rome! After spending a significant amount of time in security and what seemed like forever in airports, we arrived in busy Rome at about 10 yesterday morning. We tried to check into our hostel, but our room wasn't quite ready. Instead, we snuck into the showers, dropped our bags and decided to see what Rome had to offer. For us, Roman transportation in made up of metros and local buses, both which are incredibly easy to navigate. We were headed to Campo de Fiori but ended up having lunch near the Pantheon instead. We found a cute little restaurant where we could sit outside, share a pizza and have a glass of wine. I think our waiter may have had a little crush on us, because he kept asking up to come back later and when we left he gave us cards to the restaurant, insisting that his number wasn't on there (but he'd be willing to write it down if we wanted). Thanks, Mario!

After lunch, we strolled toward the Pantheon which really took our breath away. There aren't words to describe what this amazing building looks like with the sun streaming in. Even more impressive is how long ago it was built and the detail the covers every inch. Heidi and sponged then decided that our next stop was definitely gelato (or gelati, we're learning Italian so quickly!). Mario had suggested Gioliti and we definitely trust the locals, so we passed up one beautiful gelateria after the next before arriving and deciding on chocolate for me, banana and mint for Hides. Between the wine, the walking and the gelati, Heidi and I were more then ready for a nap. We headed back to our hostel (much more of a hotel, actually) and tucked in for a two hour (not nearly long enough) nap.
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For dinner, we decided that we wanted to do our own version of a Roman pub crawl that would hopefully end at the Colosseum (which we have heard is amazing at night and caught a glimpse of on our way to the hostel). We started in Trastevere, which is the wine district. We quickly realized that our “Roman Pub Crawl” would not include many destinations when our wine options were big, bigger and biggest. We settled on “big” white, which turned out to be a sparkling wine, almost like champagne. We sat and enjoyed it (and some delicious bruschetta) outside while (new Mario) tried to charm us into going out dancing with him and his friends tomorrow. Apparently the waiters in Italy really have a thing for us! For our second stop, we decided to ask some locals where to go for dinner. An adorable father and his daughter gave us directions in what sounded like part English, part Italian and a little bit of Spanish. When we couldn't find that place, a nice Italian man named Mario suggested another place. In fact, he even called de Lucia and made reservations for us so we wouldn't have to wait too long when we got there. Mario said that this place was cheap, delicious and very Roman (read: no tourists) and he was right! We filled up on bread, olives, pasta, steak and a little more wine. By the time we finished, we realized that we had probably missed the last bus (since the bus system stops running at midnight) and there was no chance we were catching a metro. About twenty minutes later, long after we had resigned ourselves to walking, bus number 40 (which we had taken earlier and knew would drop us off relatively close to our hostel) pulled up right behind. We hopped on, arrived at our stop and hopped off, then headed back home for a good nights rest (sort of).
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So far, Rome is amazing. Everywhere you look there are beautiful old buildings. The culture here is astounding, it really takes your breath away. Most people are more than happy to speak English, which is good because we're not quite fluent in Italian (yet). More often than not, I find myself responding to people in Spanish, and then I feel a little silly.

Now Heidi and I sit, anxiously awaiting Alicia's arrival (the cappuccinos might have something to do with that, too). I am so excited to experience all the Rome (and Italy!) has to offer!

Posted by AnzelcL 06:30 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (4)

Tomorrow We Take Off!

Italy here we come! Heidi and I leave tomorrow, Alicia meets us there on Wednesday! Keep posted for updates!

Posted by AnzelcL 21:11 Comments (0)

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